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This is a Chicago story, and I believe it needs to be told. This happened one night on the North side in the summer of 1971.The night Steve Goodman introduced Kris Kristofferson to John Prine.
As Prine recounts it, Kristofferson was booked to play three nights at a Chicago club called Quiet Night, where Goodman was the opening act. Kristofferson was impressed by Goodman’s songs, in particular “City of New Orleans.” Goodman, in turn, would play at least one song a night by Prine and repeatedly encouraged Kristofferson to go hear Prine in person during his Chicago visit.
“The third night Kris was at the Quiet Night, Steve really put the hammer down to get Kris to come see me,” Prine recalled, speaking from a recent vacation in Florida. “It was late on a Sunday night. I was sitting around with the waitresses and dishwashers, waiting to get paid. And Goodman calls, and says: I’m bringing Kris, Paul Anka and Angela Lansbury over. Get ready to do a show!’ ”Paul Anka and Angela Lansbury?
“They happened to be in town that night, and went to Kris’ show,” Prine said with a chuckle. “Paul had done a show that night at a Chicago hotel. At the time, he was singing one of Kris’ songs, ‘Help Me Make It Through the Night’.”
“So Kris comes over with them and I take my guitar out. All the rest of the tables had chairs turned upside down on them, so they were sitting two feet in front of the stage and I’m doing a show for those four people. I sang about six or seven songs. Then I sat down to have a beer with Kris. When I was done with the beer he asked if I would sing those same six or seven songs again, plus anything else I wrote.
“The evening went into the wee hours, and Kris started quoting lyrics from my songs that night. I went home so excited about meeting him and his being so knocked out by my songs, I don’t know if I slept that night. And it was all because of Steve Goodman!
Does Prine remember which songs he performed for Kristofferson at their first meeting in Chicago?
Indeed, he does.
“I’m sure I played ‘Sam Stone,’ ‘Hello in There,’ ‘Paradise,’ ‘Donald and Lydia’,” Prine said. “I played about half of (what became) my first album.”
Kristofferson, who also played an indirect but key role in getting Prine signed by Atlantic Records in New York, had ample reason to be impressed.